Learning to Keep Armpits Lifted in Down Dog

I know that I have to do a better job of keeping my armpits lifted as well as rotating my upper arms externally in my down dog. My teacher keeps correcting me on this in class, and I keep trying to adjust, but my body is having a tough time with being able to correctly intuit the feel of this move. Any suggestions?

there are few different opinions on this pose. some suggest to keep armpits in and elongate the back narrowing shoulder-blades. others advise to open the armpits tot the sides and pull shouderblades apart.

Hello Toaster,

I’m not familiar with the instruction of lifting armpits either in my own personal practice, now in its 12th year, nor in my teaching. So that may or may not be something you need to work on and I actually have to see you to make such a determination. And, of course, it may be semantic in that another instruction (for me) is more efficacious for the results I’m looking for in the student’s body.

As for the other element, the rotation of the upper arms comes from the activation of the serratus anterior NOT from the rotation of the humerus itself (when shoulder joint safety is paramount). Since the serratus connects the medial border of the scapula to the first 8-9 ribs at the side of the chest, when the muscle is activated the shoulder blades do abduct or move away from the spine - often referred to as “spreading”.

I cannot speak to whether this is the intention or understanding of your current teacher. I can however tell you that this is a requisite action for preventing shoulder injury in poses where the upper arms bear weight - sirsasana, pincha mayurasana, vasisthasana, phalakasana/adho mukha dandasana, adho mukha vrksasana, adho mukha svanasana, etcetera.

Gordon, if you do a Google search for “down dog” and “lifting the armpits,” you’ll get [I]many[/I] hits. It’s a pretty standard instruction, but, of course, different schools approach poses in different ways.

I am attending Anusara classes right now, which tend to emphasize a gentle melting of the heart forward while keeping the tops of the shoulders broad and the lower tips of the shoulder blades on the back. (I am speaking in general terms now, not just in downward dog.)

When I read your first post, Toaster, I tried ‘lifting the armpits’ and realized that the only part of the armpit you can actually lift is the outside, and I get the exact same feeling when I’m attempting to activate the serratus anterior. So I believe they are two different ways of describing the same thing. Keep in mind that this subtle movement is not easy to feel, so it makes sense that there is more than one attempt to describe it.

The other important thing to note is the sensation that you feel across the upper back when you activate the serratus anterior (sa) properly. The sa pulls the inside of the shoulderblades inward - toward the ribs - as well as pulling them laterally. This is in effect a tilting, as well as a spreading, of the shoulderblades… inner side goes down, into the body, outer side lifts away. This is what instructors mean when they say to ‘broaden’ the upper back. It feels like your upper back is broadening when you do this… and in fact, if you look closely at someone’s back when they do it, it looks that way too.

My suggestion to you, Toaster, is that you try to find that feeling in your body when you’re not in downward dog. A great way is to stand up, face a wall and place your elbows on the wall shoulder-width apart with your forearms vertical. From that position, try to pull the inside edge of your shoulderblades in toward your rib cage. Once you can feel it, try subtle shifts of your arms, sliding them a couple inches up and down while pushing your hands into the wall.

Let me know if that’s clear. It’s a great way to learn to activate your serratus anterior.

Thanks, DoYoga. I do realize that it’s a very subtle movement; I think that’s why I have such a hard time with it! I understand the action when my teacher moves me into position, I just have trouble staying in that place as well as getting there on my own. Sometimes I think I’m doing it, and then she still comes over and corrects me. :stuck_out_tongue:

Hello there ! Wow discussion started 11 years ago... I hope you are all still alive !! About shoulder injury and yoga,,, I am an ashtanga practitioner and earlier this year, by repeatedly , incorrectly jumping into chaturanga I partially torn my "'rotator cuff " tendon. It hurt like hell, couldn't lift anything or even through any object. I healed pretty quickly, 6 weeks especially when I benefited from an injection of corticoids. Anyway... this injury was a blessing in disguise, as I switched to Bikram yoga - that doesn't pressurize the shoulders at all - for these 6 weeks which led to great improvements of my lower back pain. I have re-started Ashtanga since, which I alternate with Bikram yoga. But now, I really make a point in pausing in a "plank position" after the jump back, before lowering by body into Chaturanga. That's it !! Have a beautiful day every one!